Seconds seemed like hours for Josh Kramme as he lay in a ditch, unable to move because of a broken neck. The teenager was driving home from work one March afternoon when he crashed his car in rural Missouri. His mother, a longtime EMS volunteer, happened to be the first on the scene.
“When he saw me pull up he screamed, ‘Mom, my back and my neck!’” recalled Barbara Reyelts, a 29-year veteran of the Halltown Fire Department. “Luckily dispatch had already called Life Line after hearing about the crash.” Reyelts and paramedics loaded Josh into an ambulance and rushed him to the helicopter that landed nearby. “Had they not been there, it would’ve taken 20 more minutes and could’ve been much worse.”
Reyelts made it to Mercy Hospital Springfield within the hour, shocked yet relieved to see Josh doing so well. “They’d already done tests and a neurosurgeon was on the way.” Now 15 years later, she still credits Life Line for keeping her son alive. “He has totally recovered.”
Josh’s rescue is one of more than 30,000 accident-free missions Mercy Life Line Air Medical Service has flown since it launched on July 2, 1984, as Hammons Life Line. Thirty years ago, John Q. Hammons helped Mercy purchase its first twin-turbine rescue helicopter, part of the hotelier’s pledge to support heart care in the Ozarks.
“At that time, it was the only rescue helicopter for heart patients in Missouri,” said D.J. Satterfield, administrative director of Mercy Life Line. “Since then, thousands of lives have been saved each year because we have the most experienced flight team in the region.” Each team includes a pilot, as well as one registered nurse and one paramedic – both experienced in pre-hospital, emergency and critical care. Today, there are nearly 100 Life Line team members, including pilots, mechanics, nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and a communication specialist.
“I’ve been with Life Line for 17 years,” said Scott Michaelson, pilot. “It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility, but very rewarding. We’re out there day and night, using our skills to keep people alive. You can’t beat that.”
Life Line 2 took flight in St. Robert, Missouri, in January 2001; three years later, Life Line 3 launched in Bolivar, Missouri as Life Line 1 moved to Branson West, Missouri. Last November, Life Line 4 began operating at Mercy Hospital Joplin and the following February, Life Line 5 started service from Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers. “From these locations, Mercy Life Line can reach patients in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma,” added Satterfield. Today, Mercy uses five EC135 P2+ helicopters equipped with the latest technology and equipment capable of handling life-threatening cardiac, medical and trauma surgical emergencies.
“When they land to pick up a patient, you can breathe a lot easier,” added Reyelts. “They take over, stabilize the patient, load them and they’re gone – in just a matter of minutes. It’s amazing.” The air ambulances can be dispatched by a call from first responders, EMS, fire and rescue, law enforcement, physicians, clinics or hospitals.
“It really is an awesome job and we have an excellent team,” added Michaelson. “Plus, we’ve been blessed by Mercy to have new equipment and tools to provide the best patient care to anyone who needs it.”
Life Line aircrafts have the latest technology that allows flights during a wide spectrum of inclement weather and can fly under instrument flying rules (IFR), just like commercial aircraft. Each helicopter includes the following safety features:
“I watched a lot of lives be saved because of Life Line,” said Reyelts, whose son is now 32. “They’re very humble people. You never have to worry with Life Line.” Team members are required to have ongoing education and testing. Life Line is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems. Operational control for the past 13 years has been contracted with Metro Aviation in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“Mercy is a leader in our industry, and so is Metro Aviation,” added Satterfield. “Our partnership just makes sense. Metro is a traditional operator and we are a hospital-based program. They know our needs and wants, and our partnership allows us both to exceed and be the safest program we can be while at the same time leveraging new technologies and maintaining our commitment to patient care.”
Mercy is grateful for the generous support of Mr. Hammons through his giving over the years, and through The Revocable Trust of John Q. Hammons. Together, they’ve contributed $2.9 million, which included $2 million for the construction of Hammons Heart Institute and $900,000 for the Life Line program.